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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

Rejoice In Your Calling As A Christian - Pastor John Roekle

February 2, 2020 [Epiphany 4] 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 J.D.Roekle

26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Rejoice In Your Calling As A Christian

Dear Friends in Christ,

We are getting used to having call meetings around here, aren’t we? Over the last year in particular, we have had a number of call meetings for teachers because of all the turnover. In December, we placed yet another call for a Dean of Students, and in the last couple weeks, we found out that the gentleman we called is coming. On Tuesday, we will be calling for a principal, since our current principal has taken a call. And some of you were there on Tuesday when it was decided to call a second pastor. Now when we place a call of this kind, it is called a divine call. We say that because we believe that the Holy Spirit works through the congregation during the call process in order to choose a candidate to serve as a pastor or teacher on behalf of the congregation.

There are only certain individuals who have or receive a divine call, but each one of us gathered here has something even more important. Each of us has a calling. We have been called to faith. We have a calling as a Christian. Is that something to boast about?

A couple years ago, a British newspaper published an article which addressed how certain companies are flaunting their generosity. The CEO of Starbucks wrote an open letter to staff in which he committed to hire 10,000 refugees in response to President Trump’s immigration ban. Then there is the CEO of Airbnb who tweeted that the company was providing free accommodation to anyone not allowed in the U.S. Uber said that they created a $3 million fund to help drivers affected by the immigration ban. Other companies have since attempted to outdo each other with major acts of generosity, but the article concludes that there is a catch: They’ll do good as long as they can make sure their customers know about it. Isn’t this simply a former of boasting that is self-serving?

That is something that we want to be wary of as Christians: that we don’t boast that we are Christians in order to simply draw attention to ourselves. “Look at what a good Christian I am.” After all, consider what Paul says: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”

The question Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to consider is why they were Christians in the first place; why they were a part of the family of God. Was it something special that God saw in them? Their intellect or their influence on society or their royal status? Were they celebrities? Paul essentially says ‘no’, it wasn’t any of those things.

Why are you called into the body of Christ? Are you a Christian because you are such a hard worker? Is it because God saw some special quality in you? No. It wasn’t any of those things. In fact, it had nothing to do with who you are or what you’ve done.

No matter how famous a person might be, or how intelligent, or how influential, or how talented…it has no bearing on you being a Christian today. That is because you were dead in sin. That means that by nature you were dead before God. There was no reason for God to choose you. In fact, there was every reason for God to simply cast you away from his presence forever.

But” Paul said, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

Think about who Jesus surrounded himself by during his ministry. Was it the wise and influential? The Scribes and teachers of the law, the Pharisees and Sadducees? Not at all. He was actually at odds with them. Jesus was a puzzle to them.

That’s because of who Jesus called to follow him. Think about those who were closest to Jesus, his disciples. Some were simple fishermen. There was a despised tax collector in the bunch. Think of others Jesus chose to associate with: prostitutes and ‘sinners.’ Not exactly a ‘who’s who’ of Israel.

Why would Jesus do that? Often times the wise and powerful didn’t want anything to do with him. They trusted in their riches or their intellect. They boasted in themselves and so they had no room for Jesus.

But Jesus knew precisely who needed him. He knew it was the neglected who needed him. The weak and vulnerable who needed him. He knew that it was those who felt the crushing guilt of their sin who needed him.

After all, they could relate to a Savior who looked to be far from royalty. A Savior who looked just as common as they did. A Savior who himself became weak and vulnerable, and a Savior who would eventually take all sin on his shoulders as he met his own demise on the cross.

They could relate to a Savior like this, and so can you, right?! After all, this seemingly weak and powerless Savior showed his ultimate power by breaking the shackles of death and bursting out of his 3 day prison.

God showed power through that which looked weak: through his Son, Jesus Christ. And so also, through you too, he also displays his power. You who were once dead have been made alive in him. Even though you are weak, in him you are made strong.

To the world, you do look weak. In fact, the world says that religion is a crutch for the weak. That means to them, the fact that you come to church means that you can’t go it alone. How true that is! You are a testimony to the world of God’s strength. He gives you the means with which to grow stronger in the faith: the Word and the Lord’s Supper. And those means work just like food. If you eat regularly, you’ll be fine. But, what if you don’t eat anything for a couple weeks or several months? How long can you survive without food? How long can your faith survive without God coming to you through these means? Remember that the strength isn’t in you, but it comes to you from God!

So, is being called to be a Christian something to boast about? Not if we think we have something to do with it. The hymnwriter expresses it well:

Not the labors of my hands Can fulfill thy law’s demands.

Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow,

All for sin could not atone; Thou must save and thou alone.

But it is something to boast about when the boasting is in the right place. All our boasting is to be in God. All our boasting is to be directed to the cross:

Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling;

Naked, come to thee for dress, Helpless, look to thee for grace.

Foul, I to the fountain fly-- Wash me, Savior, or I die!

And so, dear Christian friends, rejoice! Rejoice in your calling as a Christian. God has made you who you are. God has maintained your status before him. God has ensured your eternity with him. Boast in that! Amen.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving - Pastor John Roekle

January 5, 2020 [Christmas 2] John 1:14-18 J.D.Roekle

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ” 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Dear Friends in Christ,

My wife and I received an Instant Pot for Christmas from one of our sons. Now, I have to confess that I didn’t really know much about it before we received it, and in fact, I’ve been just gradually learning about it since. The Instant Pot makes many claims. It is easy to use. It is easy to clean. It can cook up to 70% faster than other cooking methods. It can provide healthier, less expensive meals quickly. It replaces up to 7 other kitchen appliances. And of course, this isn’t a one-use gift. This is a gift that keeps giving, since it can be used over and over again.

Our Heavenly Father did not have our stomachs in mind when he sent his Christmas gift into the world: his own Son. But he certainly did have our best interests in mind. When Jesus came to earth, the Bible literally tells us that he “tented” among us. Just as a tent is temporary housing, so also the earth was going to be temporary housing for Jesus. He was here and gone in 33 years. And yet, Jesus was not just a temporary gift that was given for a few decades. Jesus is a gift that we enjoy today. Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving.

Are you one that likes to find unique gifts to give? You search high and low. You go to specialty shops in various places to find it. You scour the internet for that one gift that stands out.

Jesus is a unique gift. John says he is one of a kind. He is the one and only. At first glance, it may not appear that way. The prophet Isaiah said this about Jesus: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Far from looking unique, Jesus looked rather plain and ordinary. There wasn’t anything in his features, his build, or his stature that gave the appearance that this was someone special.

But just as the best gifts are in unlikely packages, so it is with Jesus. Jesus appeared as he did so that he could experience all that we experience. He would experience hunger, thirst, pain, sorrow, and even death. He would experience all things we do, except sin. He was born without sin, and he never engaged in sin of any kind. That’s what makes him such a one of a kind gift. He is a one of a kind gift that keeps on giving.

There are people who like to overwhelm people with gifts. They give gifts to people for every conceivable occasion. They like to give many, many gifts. Jesus is one who has an overabundance of gifts to give, and he gives them most generously to us. In particular, he gives us grace and truth.

Grace is God’s unearned and unmerited favor. He loves us unconditionally and ‘just because.’ It is the Law that reminds us of who we are. Think of what you confessed earlier: “I confess that I am by nature dead in sin. For faithless worrying and selfish pride, For sins of habit and sins of choice, For the evil I have done and the good I have failed to do, You should cast me away from your presence forever.”

If that’s the end of it, we’re in big trouble. But the gift that keeps on giving reaches out to us with his grace. Christ has died for you! Christ has risen for you! Christ will come again…for you! Christ is the one who has made us alive even though we were dead, steeped in our sins. And it is Christ who declares to us that because of what he has done, our sins are forgiven.

Now that you have received forgiveness of sins from Christ, does that mean you won’t sin once you leave church today? Of course not. If we say that we’re without sin or that we’ll quit sinning, we are only deceiving ourselves. No, the truth is that our sinning will continue today and beyond. But remember that God’s grace is like a well that never runs dry. Next week, the pastor will announce once again that your sins are forgiven. That will be true the following week and the week after that. Grace is a gift that you’ll never be short of. It will always come to you plentifully.

And another gift that Jesus gives you and me is truth. The term “fake news” has been popularized primarily by our current president. The term calls into question whether or not what is being spoken or written is true. How do you know what to believe? What source is really accurate? Who do you trust?

Isn’t it comforting then to know that Jesus speaks truth. In fact, Jesus is truth in the flesh. The purpose of the Bible is to point to Jesus. All Old Testament prophesy is fulfilled in Jesus. The purpose of the New Testament is to point to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.

In our world, people want to create their own truth. Their own reality. “I’ll believe what I want to believe.” Others question: “How do I know what to believe?” What a gift it is to know the truth! There is only one reality. And it is all rooted in our Triune God, and revealed to us in Jesus Christ. What a comfort it is to know this truth. Knowing the truth changes our whole perspective on life. Don’t take this truth for granted!

Why is Christ such a great gift? There are many births that have been widely anticipated. For instance, whenever someone in the royal family is giving birth to a baby, the press is all over it. There has not been a more anticipated birth, however, than the birth of the Christ child. What is it that sets this child apart? The lyrics of the Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know?” express it: “When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God. Mary did you know?”

That seems like a contradiction when you read John’s Gospel. He says: “no one has ever seen God.” So how do we understand this? If we are to see God in all his glory, as sinners we could not survive such an encounter. God is too holy for us. So what does God do? He makes himself known to us by toning down his glory. He puts himself into the form of a tiny baby, whose brain needs to develop and who needs to learn to crawl and then walk.

But make no mistake. Mary was kissing the face of God. She and Joseph raised the Son the God. The gift of this child is so special because only God can be such a blessing to so many. From him, John says, “we have all received one blessing after another.” Jesus gives us one blessing after another. But you know, that doesn’t tell the real story. More literally, those words of John read: “we have all received grace upon grace.” That tells you even more about the gift giver. It tells you his heart. It tells you that he has an endless supply of love for you.

You may have received some very useful gifts for Christmas. Ones that you will use over and over again. But one day, those gifts you reuse will break or wear out or become obsolete. Jesus Christ is the one gift that is always needed and is always useful. And it is the one gift that truly never stops giving. Amen.

And He Shall Reign Forever and Ever - Pastor John Roekle

November 24, 2019 [Christ the King] Colossians 1:13-20 J.D.Roekle

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

And He Shall Reign Forever and Ever

Dear Friends in Christ,

On the game show Family Feud, hosted by Steve Harvey, contestants are asked to guess how 100 people responded to various survey questions. On a 2012 episode, a contestant had to provide the top answers to the following survey question: "When someone mentions 'the King,' to whom might he or she be referring?" Can you guess who got he most votes? The vast majority – 81 out of 100 said the King is Elvis Presley. The other top vote getters? Two people said “The Burger King”; three said “Martin Luther King, Jr.” and seven said “God or Jesus.” The thing that is interesting to me is the fact that none of the 4 answers are really kings in the traditional sense of the word. Merriam-Webster defines a king as: “a male monarch of a major territorial unit.”

Elvis? The Burger King? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Jesus? None of them are rulers over a ‘territorial unit.’ And yet, the Bible speaks of Jesus as a King. As the King. He is a different kind of King. A King which the world has never seen before or since. In fact, he is unique because of how long his reign lasts. Netflix has a made for TV series called “The Crown” which documents the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The interesting thing about that series is the fact that Queen Elizabeth is still on the throne as she has been for the last 67 years. That’s quite a remarkable run! Since she is in her 90s, we know her reign won’t last much longer. However, Jesus’ reign is much longer. Jesus’ reign never ends. That’s good news for you and me!

Even though we take one Sunday a year to acknowledge Christ as King, we confess that truth regularly. In both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed we regularly confess Christ is King when we say that he is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

How do you envision that? Do you see the Father sitting on a throne, and Jesus sitting on a throne right next to him? That certainly is the picture being portrayed, but Jesus isn’t sitting on a literal throne, is he?! The picture is meant to relay to us that Jesus is in a position of ultimate power and authority. He is God’s ‘right hand man.’

And as such, what has he done and what is he doing? First of all, he has brought us into his kingdom. When you live in a country, you know that there are defined physical borders surrounding it. Those who rule that country rule only that which is inside the borders.

Entering into Christ’s kingdom is different. In fact, the kingdom comes to us. It enters our hearts by faith. And it is through the Word that this faith comes to us. That’s why baptism is so crucial for infants and small children. Since they cannot hear and comprehend the spoken Word of God, the Word of God connected with simple water brings Christ’s kingdom to their hearts.

And think about why we can be a part of this kingdom to begin with. By nature, we are enemies of God. We are enemies of the king. Paul told the Roman Christians that “the sinful mind is hostile to God.”

Knowing that, why in the world would God even want us to be a part of his kingdom?! God did not want us to reside in “the dominion of darkness.” Even though we deserved it, God did not want us to be dominated by the powers of darkness: Our sin and all its evil results, including death, eternal death, and of course, the devil.

And so, God went to work by sending King Jesus to defeat those powers that threaten us with eternal harm. But he didn’t defeat those enemies as we might expect him to. In fact, the way that Jesus went about winning is something that puzzles the world. We think of kings assembling great armies and conquering their enemies by force. But this wasn’t the way it was with Jesus.

It certainly puzzled Pontius Pilate. Or maybe we should say that he didn’t really take Jesus’ claims very seriously. The sign that he had placed above Jesus’ cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews,” was dripping with sarcasm. Pilate didn’t really take his claim of royalty seriously, did he? The rulers, soldiers, and even one of the criminals on the cross didn’t take Jesus seriously either.

But Jesus was a different kind of king. And one of the thieves on the cross recognized that fact. He knew Jesus was different. That’s why he asked Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

While we may know these words of this thief best, his other words on the cross also indicate that he knew Jesus was a different kind of king. While the other thief taunted Jesus, this thief rebuked him saying: “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same condemnation? 41We are punished justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for what we have done, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

Jesus didn’t really belong on the cross. He had done nothing wrong. And as others indicated, he had the power to come down from the cross. And yet he stayed. He stayed, because it is there on the cross that Jesus defeated our foes. He conquered sin by becoming sin for us. He conquered death by taking the threat of eternal death, hell, out of it. In doing this, he reversed the work of Satan who was trying to drag the world down to his lair. When he cried “It is finished” on the cross, his work to conquer our enemies and ensure our salvation was complete.

In defeating all our enemies, King Jesus reaches out to us with something more valuable than all the money in the world. He reaches out to us with the forgiveness of our sins. And King Jesus has a wealth of forgiveness to dole out. In fact, it’s limitless!

And that’s good to know, isn’t it? After all, our natural tendency to oppose the throne of God is still with us. If someone would threaten the throne of an earthly king, that person would be tried for treason, and may even be put to death. But even as we assault the throne of God with our every sin, King Jesus continues to pardon us.

And he takes it even farther than that. Not only does he pardon or forgive us, but he continues to protect us. It is as if he sends a security detail to follow us around and ensure that our enemies can do us no harm.

Not only does King Jesus promise to protect us, but he can back it up. I’m reminded of the Halleluiah chorus of Handel’s Messiah. “King of kings, and Lord of lords” rings out loudly. He is above all authority. Above all rulers that have ever lived. He is the all-powerful Son of God who was there at creation; who came to save us by going the way of the cross; who rose victoriously from the grave; who ascended in triumph to heaven; and who sits in the greatest position of power possible. And the Halleluiah chorus repeats the truth over and over: “…and He shall reign forever and ever…” Who is THE King? Many in the world may have their ideas. But for you and me, there can be no doubt. The King is Jesus! Amen.